Makhi

The fly — unwanted by one and all
has such freedom to come sit on my nose
and it is free from the everyday which imprisons me

Sabke liye nā-pasandīda uḌtī makkhī
Kitnī āzādī se mere muñh aur mere hāthoñ par baiThtī hai
Aur is roz-marrase āzād hai jismeñ main qaid huuñ’

— Kishwar Naheed
(Trans. by Vaishnavi Mahurkar)

Urdu poet Kishwar Naheed was born in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1940. As a young child, she witnessed the aftermath of violence wrought against women during Partition. During the riots, Muslim girls from her community were kidnapped, raped, and abused. She has since said that seeing the injured girls who managed to crawl home marked the moment she stopped being “just a child and became a girl child.” Naheed’s family moved to Lahore, Pakistan, in 1949, where she fought to gain access to an education in a system that prohibited girls from attending school. She received her B.A. in 1959 and a Master’s in Economics in 1961 from Punjab University.

[Research note: Harris Khalique, “The phenomenal woman,” Herald (June 18, 2015).]

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Bats

Bats on my windows
suck in my words
Bats at the entrance to my house
behind newspapers, in corners
trail my footsteps,
observing every movement of my head

From the back of the chair, bats watch me
They trail me in the streets
watching my eyes pause
on books, on young girls’ legs . . .
they watch and watch

On my neighbor’s balcony, bats,
and electronic gadgets hidden in the walls
Now bats are on the verge
of suicide
I am digging a road to daylight.

— Samih al-Qasim

Palestinian rights activist and poet Samih al-Qasim was born in 1939, although he sometimes claimed to have been born in 1948, when his village in Galilee was bombed by the Israeli army. As an adult, he lived in Haifa, where he joined the Israeli Communist Party in 1967. His poetry was often censored by Israeli military (his second book, Songs of Alleys, 1965, was full of empty pages). At the beginning of the Six-Day War in 1967, he was sent to al-Damoun prison. He was jailed several more times for his pro-Palestinian activism.

[Research note: Roger Hardy, “Palestinian Writers in Israel,” Boston Review (December 1982); and Liam Brown, “Samih al-Qasim and the language of revolution,” Middle East Eye (May 13, 2014)].

The Last Iraq

Every night I place this creature on my table
And pull its ears,
Till tears of joy come to its eyes.
Another cold winter, penetrated by airplanes
And soldiers sitting on the edge of a hillock,
Waiting for history
To rise up from the darkness of the marshes
With a gun in its hand,
To shoot angels
Training for the revolution.
Every night I put my hand on this country,
It slips away from my fingers,
Like a soldier running from the front.

— Fadhil al-Azzawi

Fadhil al-Azzawi was one of the many academics and activists incarcerated after the 1963 coup in Iraq. He spent two years in prison. In 1976, he was jailed again for reading his (banned) poetry in public. After his release, he fled to Germany. He has been living in exile since 1977

Eternal Darkness

I who thought that light was mine
see myself thrown headlong into dark.
A solar ember, astral joy
fiery with sea-foam and light and desire.

My blood is weightless, round, pomegranate:
a torrent of yearning without border or penumbra.
Outside, light is buried in light.
Only darkness gives me the sensation of light.

Only darkness. Which leaves no trace. Or sky.
Beings. Shapes. Real bodies
in the flightless air,
in the tree of impossible things.

Livid frowns, grief’s passions.
Teeth thirsty to turn red.
The darkness of pure malice.
Bodies like blind, plugged wells.

Not enough room. Laughter has sunk low.
To fly high is impossible.
My heart wishes it could beat strong enough
to dilate the constricting blackness.

My aimless flesh billows
into the barren, sinister night:
Who could be a ray of sunlight, invading it?
I look. I find not even a trace of day.

Just the glitter of clenched fists,
the splendor of teeth ready to snap.
Teeth and fists evrywhere.
Like great hands, mountains close in on me.

Fighting with no thirst for morning muddies things.
Such vastness, filled with dark heartbeats!
I am a prison whose window
Opens to huge, roaring solitudes.

I am an open window, waiting,
as life goes darkly by.
Yet there is a streak of sunlight in battle
which always leaves the shadow vanquished.

— Miguel Hernández
(Trans. by Don Share)

Poet Miguel Hernández joined the Fifth Regiment of the (leftist, revolutionary) Republican army during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) as a cultural affairs officer. He read his poetry on the radio daily and traveled to the front lines to do poetry readings for the soldiers. When the (rightest, counterrevolutionary) National army prevailed, delivering Spain into the hands of Franco, Hernández found himself in a precarious political position. Having no means to flee the country, he was arrested multiple times for “anti-fascist activities.” He was eventually given a 30-year prison sentence. He died in prison of tuberculosis in 1942.

[Research note: Miguel Hernández, trans. by Done Share (New York: New York Review of Books, 1997, 2013): p. 88]

for Sammy Young

for Sammy Young

— Charlie Cobb

Journalist, poet, and professor Charlie (Charles) Cobb joined the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. in 1961, when he participated in a non-violent protest against segregation in Baltimore. He was arrested for his efforts. Eighteen years old and a student at Howard University, he learned more about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while in jail. His inquiries started him on the first of many years of social justice work. In 1962, he relocated to Mississippi, where he worked to establish a system of Freedom Schools for black children denied access to state schools.

Cobb dedicated this poem to Samuel “Sammy” Younge, Jr., who was murdered when he tried to use a whites-only bathroom in Macon County, Alabama.

[Research note: Charlie Cobb, Furrow (Tougaloo, MS: Flute Publications, 1967), p. 34; Charlie Cobb documents from Civil Rights Movement Veterans; biography of Sammy Younge, Jr. , from blackpast.org]

In Memory: The Miami Showband — Massacred 31 July 1975

Beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, Of them that bring glad tidings of good things

In a public house, darkly lit, a patriotic (sic)
Versifier whines into my face: “You must take one side
Or the other, or you’re but a fucking romantic.”
His eyes glitter hate and vanity, porter and whiskey,
And I realise that he is blind to the braille connection
Between a music and a music-maker.
“You must take one side or the other
Or you’re but a fucking romantic”:
The whine is icy
And his eyes hang loose like sheets from poles
On a bare wet hillside in winter
And his mouth gapes like a cave in ice;
It is a whine in the crotch of whose fear
Is fondled a dream gun blood-smeared;
It is in war — not poetry or music —
That men find their niche, their glory hole;
Like most of his fellows
He will abide no contradiction in the mind.
He whines: “If there is birth, there cannot be death”
And — jabbing a hysterical forefinger into my nose and eyes —
“If there is death, there cannot be birth.”
Peace to the souls of those who unlike my fellow poet
Were true to their trade
Despite death-dealing blackmail by racists:
You made music, and that was all: You were realists
And beautiful were your feet.

— Paul Durcan

The Miami Showband. Image: RTE Archives

The Miami Showband.
Image: RTÉ Archives / War and Conflict

The Miami Showband was one of the most popular bands in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. Based in Dublin and including both Catholic and Protestant musicians, the showband toured across the island, from County Antrim to County Kerry. On July 31, 1975, while the traveling by van from Bainbridge, County Down, to Dublin, the band was pulled over at a fake military checkpoint. Unaware that the checkpoint officers in UK military uniforms were part of a paramilitary loyalist group, the band members waited by the side of the road while a time bomb was planted in their vehicle. The loyalists hoped to frame the band members as IRA-bomb smugglers. However, the bomb was mishandled during the installation and detonated early, killing the two men working with it. The remaining armed loyalists opened fire on the band members, killing three and wounding two. Later investigations (c. 2010) indicated that the mastermind behind the attack, Robin “The Jackal” Jackson, avoided arrest thanks to assistance from upper-level police officers.

[Research note: Paul Durcan, A Snail in My Prime: New and Selected Poems (NY & London: Penguin Books, 1995), n.p.; Henry McDonald, “Miami Showband killings: police tipoff helped suspect elude justice, says report,” Guardian (December 14, 2010).]

Motho ke Motho ka Batho Babang

(A Person is a Person Because of Other People)

By holding my mirror out of the window I see
Clear to the end of the passage.
There’s a person down there.
A prisoner polishing a doorhandle.
In the mirror I see him see
My face in the mirror,
I see the fingertips of his free hand
Bunch together, as if to make
An object the size of a badge
Which travels up to his forehead
The place of an imaginary cap.
                  (This means: A warder.)
Two fingers are extended in a vee
And wiggle like two antennae.
                  (He’s being watched.)
A finger of his free hand makes a watch-hand’s arc
On the wrist of his polishing arm without
Disrupting the slow-slow rhythm of his work.
                  (Later. Maybe, later we can speak.)
Hey! Wat maak jy daar?
                  — a voice from around the corner.
No. Just polishing baas.
He turns his back to me, now watch
His free hand, the talkative one,
Slips quietly behind
                  — Strength brother, it says,
In my mirror,
                  A black fist.

— Jeremy Cronin

insideJeremy Cronin was raised in a white, middle-class family in Cape Town, South Africa. A member of the banned South African Communist Party, he was arrested in 1976 and charged with conspiring with the African Nationalist Congress to circulate anti-apartheid propaganda. He plead guilty and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison under the Terrorism Act. Six months into his sentence, his wife, Anne-Marie, died of a brain tumor. Three of his seven years were spent in a maximum security prison on death row. Cronin began writing poetry while awaiting trial and continued writing secretly in throughout his incarceration. Many of his poems were smuggled out, and when he was released in May 1983, he gathered and revised them into the collection Inside.

[Research note: Inside (http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/inside-jeremy-cronin); Andrew van der Vlies, “An Interview with Jeremy Cronin Contemporary Literature Vol. 49, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 514-540.]

For the Sake of Argument

For a whole month corpses were observed floating down
the River Euphrates nearly every day, often in batches. . . .
— from the account of a German missionary

Say that nothing
happened in 1915

no massacres in Zeitoun
no Van or Kharpert

no wild dogs lapping
at the throats of the dead

say there were no eyewitnesses
no missionaries in the mountains of Kars

no death caravans
winding through the streets

say there were no consuls at the window
hearing the cries

say nothing occurred
none of it a matter of public record

no million dead or million more
scarred into silence

say nothing happened
no one heard

and say the hunger deserts
were empty of all the voices

and the rivers of thirst
were flowing like other rivers

without memory now
of any of it

—Gregory Djanikian

Gregory Djanikian was born in Alexandria, Egypt, of Armenian parentage. He came to the United States when he was 8 years old and spent the remaining years of his childhood in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

[Research note: Gregory Djanikian, So I Will The Ground (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007), p. 30.]

Independence

Oh, snow, snow in all the gardens and
recollected yards, a bed of snow freshly
made along the river. An entirely new
country. Watching from the stairs, closing

my eyes. I don’t take a step. It’s also snowing
inside, white in all the rooms, snow in all
the voluminous books. It’s building pyramids,
erecting new schools. Let the children begin,

let them print the first letters of the law.
If our state survives till Sunday,
it will be immortal.

— Tomasz Różycki
(Trans. by Mira Rosenthal)

Polish poet Tomasz Różycki grew up in Opole, Silesia, in southwestern Poland. When Silesia was awarded to Poland after World War II, an estimated 4 million citizens of German descent were expelled from the region. Silesia was resettled by Poles, including Różycki’s family, who were forced out of eastern cities such as Lviv (present-day Ukraine) during the post-war re-drawing of European boundaries.

[Research note: Tomasz Różycki, The Forgotten Keys (Brookline, MA: Zephyr Press, 2007), p. 43]

(untitled)

The time has come
For my arrest
This dark rainy night.
I calm myself and listen
To the sound of the shoes.

Torawaruru
Toki wa kitarinu
Ame no yoi
Kokoro sadamete
Kutsu no oto kiku

— Sojin Tokiji Takei

Sojin Tokiji Takei moved to Maui, Hawaii, in 1922, with his parents. He was principal of the Paia Japanese language school on Maui and co-founder of the Maui Tanka Poetry Club. He was arrested two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and sent to a series of relocation camps. In December 1944, he was moved to the camp at Crystal City, Texas, where he was reunited with his family after a three-year separation.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the incarceration of more than 120,000 American citizens.

[Research note: Keiho Soga, Taisanboku Mori, Sojin Takei, and Muin Ozaki, Poets Behind Barbed Wire, Jiro Nakano and Kay Nakano, eds. (Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge Press, 1983), p. 13.]